No Regrets

I have had two abortions, one at 24 and the other at 26. Both times I was using contraception, the first time condoms, the second the contraceptive patch. Both times I fell pregnant with the same man who was my long term boyfriend and who also could've probably provided for me and a baby financially. So, why did I have an abortion not just once, but twice? Well I just didn't feel ready. Mentally or emotionally I wasn't prepared to give a child what I thought it needed, and I suspected my partner wasn't either. I felt certain of my decision the first time. The second time, not knowing if perhaps this would be my last chance to have a child, some doubt did creep in, but after about two days of serious consideration I knew that those factors did not override my feelings of not being mentally ready to take on such a massive commitment. 

The first time I opted for what is called a 'medical' abortion, believing it was a less invasive procedure. Living in the UK, abortions are actually free but there is a waiting list and it can take up to a few weeks. If you want the termination done as soon as possible then you have to pay for it, so that's what I did the first time. On arriving at the clinic I wasn't particularly nervous as I thought the whole process would be easy, just popping a pill and feeling some discomfort and perhaps experience some bleeding. How wrong I was! There were some protesters outside with quite graphic posters chanting nasty messages at us as we went in. It really pissed me off to think that people could be so judgmental and self-righteous.

I took the pill, was advised to take some paracetamol, go home and let things take their course. After a few hours, a sudden crashing wave of cramps rushed through me and I felt what I can honestly only describe as the worst pain I've ever experienced. Then followed hours on the loo feeling like I'd pass out from how cold I felt and intense vomiting and diarrhea, screaming at my partner that I thought I might be dying. After a call to the clinic and being assured that I was just having a strong reaction to the pill but that I would be ok, I had no choice but to just ride out the excruciating pain until I was so exhausted I fell asleep. The experience traumatized me due to the physical pain I went through, but other than that I have no regrets.

With my second abortion, I chose to have the surgical option. All I remember is lying down in the theatre room one second and the next waking up in a wheelchair being pushed to a recovery room. Apart from feeling a little groggy I felt absolutely fine. I was taken to sit in a room of about 8 other girls until the anesthetic wore off. Some were crying which was disconcerting but I personally knew I'd made the right decision. Fast forward 5 years and I'm pregnant for the third time with the same man, but this time it was planned and we are both happy. I can honestly say neither me nor my partner ever felt moments of regret since the terminations. In fact there have been quite a few moments that have proved to me we made the right decision both times.

Now that I'm nearly 9 months gone I believe that in my twenties, neither I nor my relationship with my now fiancé was strong enough to withstand the emotional toll that pregnancy brings with it, let alone the responsibility of what having a child involves. I also think having those abortions has made this experience all the more special this time round and something I know we are both now completely ready to undertake.

Remembering

This year I am the age my mother was when she had me. For some reason that feels significant. As I write this and my eyes unexpectedly well up, I realize that I have not reflected on my abortion since I had it, except to remind my partner what a shit feminist he can be.

I was never good at remembering when my period was due - I have a string of stained pants to prove it. But the month it happened I remember repeating to myself ‘it should’ve arrived by now surely?’ Maybe the moon’s orbit was out of sink or my cycle had twinned with my menopausal mother’s? As I held the test in my wet hand, wishing away the blue lines, I knew it was not a mistake. I had known already somehow. My body had already started to change, subtle but perceptible changes.

My partner was there when I came out of the toilet and hugged me as I curled up in bed. He told me repeatedly that he’d stand by my decision whatever it was. There was no doubt in my mind – I was getting an abortion. Okay, he said, opening his laptop, this is where you need to go. You’ve been here before, I said. Yes, he replied.

I was so angry and disappointed at him. Yes, I’d been careless too but it felt so wrong that after fathering a life once he had not taken more care for it to never happen again. Now, for the second time he was on the precipice of fatherhood yet he felt no emotional connection to the life we had both created. He felt a lot for me and was there for me, yes, but not for his child to be. He didn’t feel the fear, the life, the loss of another abortion. The inequality of it felt stark.

Between my initial appointment with the doctor and booking the procedure, a week passed. At the time, my relationship with my own mother was strained and I was in the process of taking difficult steps away from what she expected of me. I was trying to plough through the thorns and the fear to become my own person. I remember that for that week, my secret motherhood felt powerful and liberating, giving me the strength to stand up on my own two feet.

I was 7 weeks pregnant and decided to go for the surgical procedure, as it sounded like the most full proof. I remember it being described to me as a vacuum cleaner. Having watched too many documentaries about the 1 in so-many-people who despite anesthetics, feel and hear everything, I was terrified. I had nightmarish visions of the surgeons laughing at me and putting my body into ridiculous positions whilst I was asleep. I felt uncomfortable about leaving my unconscious body to them. I remember the face of the grey-haired aesthetician peering at me as I passed out. All I remember is waking up sobbing uncontrollably - apparently a side effect of anesthetics.

My decision to have an abortion didn’t feel difficult. I was disappointed in my partner and myself for not being more careful but I didn’t have to fight off guilt and my conscience was clear. Waking up to myself bawling uncontrollably was a shock. It felt like my subconscious was letting go of all the unsaid and unformed feelings for the life that had been inside me.

When we finally left, we were met outside by a lone-protestor with a placard. He was there to intimidate people like me on the way in and scar our consciences on the way out.

But we won’t be deterred, because we haven’t done anything wrong.

That’s what makes this space so important. It is a space where we are not alone, and will not be silenced or shamed for exercising our right to our womb. 

"Because women in my family do it on our own."

I'm fifteen. I'm standing in the hallway upstairs at home. "I don't want you to stay over at his place", mum says. Enraged that she won't let me decide what I get to do, I defiantly spit back "If you're worried about us having sex, we can do that anytime!" I can tell my words land like a slap. I'm too mad to feel guilty. She takes a moment to answer "Well I hope you're at least using protection". "Of course we are!"

We weren't. 

A week later, it's been seven weeks since my last period. I bring home a pregnancy test. Pee. Wait. And there's the blue line. I have a problem to solve and I move into action. I call the health clinic and ask for an abortion. I have to go in to the clinic and confirm I am pregnant. I'm indeed pregnant. I get medications to take at home, and an appointment at the hospital for the day. I'm staying at my aunt's that week. I lie about why I need to catch the bus in to town for the day. I get to the the hospital, nervous that my mum will show up at the women's clinic or that the staff will recognize me and tell her. She works at the hospital and we look so much alike. I have the required psychological assessment. It takes no more than 15 minutes. Am I really sure. Do I need any support? I just want to get it over with. The ultrasound confirms I am 10 weeks pregnant. I'm down to the wire for a medical abortion.

I get my own room. They give me a pessary to soften the cervix. The pain is excruciating. I'm told the cramping I am experiencing is like pre-labour. The nurse offers an injection of additional pain relief. My best friend arrives, but she has brought another friend I don't know. I now feel like a zoo animal they have come to look at. Lunch arrives and I can hardly eat. Moments later I vomit. I just about make it to the sink by the side of the bed. When I go to the washroom, clots splash into the bowl. I wonder if one of them is the fetus. I don't remember leaving or getting back home. It's another two weeks before I tell my boyfriend. He looks at me with wounded eyes 'why didn't you tell me?' 

Because women in my family do it on our own. 

Despite growing up in abortion access heaven (Sweden), the internalized shame was too big of a hurdle. 

20 years later, I finally tell my mum. I confess I never told her because I didn't want her to know she was right; that she knew better and I needed her. She says "Well isn't it great that you had access, and it worked, even all those years ago." I'm relived to no longer carry the secret and finally sad that I went through it alone. For the first time, I cry over the loneliness I felt all those years ago.

Over the years, I would sometimes imagine the child we never had. "He would be 5 years now" (I was convinced it was a he). I struggle to even imagine how different my life would have been. I'm grateful for everything that came since.

Part of the abortion stigma is the myth that surgical abortions can cause scarring that impact fertility. Knowing what I know now, I wish that option had been offered and encouraged at the time. Later term medical abortions are more intense because of the size of the fetus at that point. 10 weeks (or 70 days since last menstrual period) is the last recommended use of RU-486.

Stigma: a story of systematic oppression

About a year ago, I was working at my internship where I collected and filed oral histories of people living with HIV. The objectives of our department were two fold: to create spaces where marginalized bodies could feel safe; to help destigmatize HIV by disseminating their stories and exposing people to the truths of living with HIV. The point was to show that people living with HIV aren’t homeless drug addicts, and/or perverted homosexuals living deviant lifestyles. They are people whom are themselves marginalized prior to contracting HIV because of systematic barriers to economic and social mobility, healthcare, and education. These barriers are due to poverty, immigrant status, racism, xenophobia, sexism, transphobia, etc.

I had just been listening to a female sex worker living with HIV who was pregnant and decided to abort when my sister sent me a photo of a positive pregnancy test. I already had been thinking a lot about oppressive systems and the lack of accessibility to health care, sexual education and abortion, but it all went out the window when my sister sent me that photo. I selfishly got excited by the prospect of a baby joining our family. I immediately got my sister on the phone to talk about her pregnancy, and discuss the pros and cons of keeping the baby. She told me about the symptoms she was already experiencing, such as how her breasts already looked larger. We played around with all kinds of scenarios, the most exciting being the one where we’d have a new family member. However, realistically and monetarily it was not the right time. Her boyfriend was working very strenuous hours at the time and spent most of his time away from home travelling around the country. She was working part-time and had yet to finish her Masters. There was no stability - financially or otherwise. She and her partner decided it wasn't the right time but that one day they would welcome a new life with the love and appreciation it deserves.

This was an incredibly hard decision for my sister to make because she has always been the maternal type. She very much helped raised me and always protected and cared for me. She has always wanted to be a mother. My sister’s abortion reminded me of the importance of bodily autonomy. It is of the utmost importance that we let people take control over their lives and give them that agency, whether the person with a uterus is privileged, white, upper class, straight, QTPOC , or poor. After all, we would never expect cis men to give their lives for another creature (yes creature because a fetus is not yet human). I believe if cis men could get pregnant, abortion wouldn't be stigmatized. It would be seen as a right of the rational, practical, and objective man who wishes to advance economically before bringing life into the world.  We live in a capitalist world where everybody must produce and consume to survive; a world where community and emotions are seen as unnecessary and inhibiting to people’s success in life. We judge people with uteruses and prohibit them from being able to take the same steps towards safety and economic capital. This seems to be a clear systematic compulsion to bar some people from the same opportunities and social mobility as white cis men.

Akin to the lessons in the stories of people living with HIV, stories about abortion are important ones to share too. Abortion is not an individualist choice, one that is either bad or good, as christian moralists would have us believe. Abortion is a social justice issue steeped in historical, systematic, and economic disenfranchisement.  Platforms like “so, I had an abortion…”  form a community; sharing stories in resistance to a society that wishes to separate, isolate and devalue us; destigmatizing abortion as a collective.

I want to write that it wasn’t a big deal.  I want to write that I understand the thing inside me had a heartbeat but could not be heartbroken; that my feelings of loss were based in romanticized ideals of motherhood.  
 
The day before the + sign appeared, I wrote:  “I’m not sure what the tears are for, that spring so suddenly.  There is sadness in your possibility, and in us not being able to meet each other.  There is sadness in knowing how well I would love you, and in knowing that for my future children and future self, I have to be selfish, now.  I was selfish, already, feeling flesh instead of latex.  It feels unfair to you, though, because all you did was triumph, and all you will do is grow and reach for love and nurturance.  I feel lucky to have a choice, but also terribly saddened by it.  The thought of you growing inside me is terrifying and stillingly peaceful at once.  I haven’t taken a test, yet, so my brain is yet to wander to the realness of decision and procedure of abortion.  Rather, I just imagine feeling you; imagine hosting and warming you, imagine the tranquility you could feel inside me.”  
 
My dad picked me up from the train station, after a 10-hour nauseating ride from university to my hometown.  My boyfriend met me at my house; he was wearing my favorite turtleneck of his, and a bouquet of roses sat on the kitchen table.  The days before the abortion, he stopped smoking because the faintest trace of the smell nauseated and repulsed me.  My mom took me to the Planned Parenthood clinic.  She sat in the waiting room with me, rubbing my back when I returned from puking in the restroom.  In the second waiting room, another girl waiting asked me how far along I was and if it was my first abortion.  She asked me how I felt.  
The procedure was quick and painless.  On the car ride back, I felt exhausted relief.  My nausea was gone by the time we got home. 
 
The intense experience of being pregnant and then suddenly not made me distance daydreams of motherhood further into my future than before my pregnancy, while simultaneously assuring the secure, strong feeling that will come with having a being growing inside me.  
 
My mom later shared with me about her own experience having an abortion when she was 17 years old.  She went to the clinic alone, and never told her parents; what an isolating experience it was for her, compared to mine of connectedness and supported autonomy.  
 
My abortion was a big deal, and something I will never forget.  My reproductive knowledge, nurturing from my own mother, love for babies, supportive social network, and acute awareness of my privilege of safe choice were all integral aspects to how I experienced and continue to experience my abortion.  
 
Before I took the pregnancy test, I finished writing: I will be hugely relieved if I am not pregnant.  In essence, I think I believe I am, but I also know I will feel hugely stunned if a test is positive.  I can imagine the moment of a negative test, better.  I would cry joy for you not being, yet, and for knowing that next time, I’ll be ready for you, I promise.